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Nova Pilbeam


early publicity still

Nova Margery Pilbeam (1919-2015) was a British actress with notable performances in both theatre and film.

She attained early fame as a child stage actress before auditioning for Gaumont-British in 1934, leading to a starring role in the critical acclaimed Little Friend (1934) and a seven-year contract with the studio. This early success — she was frequently called "the world's greatest child actress" by the British press — led to a great deal of work in her teen years, most memorably in the 1930s films of Alfred Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) and Young and Innocent (1937).

In September 1934, Pilbeam, accompanied by her mother Margery, travelled to America on a publicity trip with G-B studio head Michael Balcon and actor Jack Hulbert.[1]

Speaking to film critic C.A. Lejeune in 1936, Nova said, "I should love to work with Hitchcock again, because he never seems to direct you, and yet you know all the time just what he's wanting. I think he's a splendid director."[2]

In October 1937, Hitchcock announced that he was intending to adapt a short story titled False Witness, by French author Marcel Achard, and that Pilbeam would star. However, this project was soon dropped in favour of The Lady Vanishes, which starred Margaret Lockwood.

Pilbeam was one of many actresses considered for the role of the second Mrs. de Winter in Rebecca (1940).[3]

She was married to the director Penrose Tennyson from 1939 until his death in a plane crash in July 1941. Her own brother, Anthony Stopher Pilbeam, was also killed in a plane crash in January 1944.[4] In April 1941, shortly before her husband's death, she escaped without injury when a heavy Luftwaffe bomb exploded close to the house she was staying in.[5]

Pilbeam was a guest on the BBC's Desert Island Discs programme in 1945.

She retired from acting in the early 1950s and was known to have lived in north London Highgate.

Nova Pilbeam died on 17 July 2015, aged 95.


With Hitchcock...

Film Frames

Selection of film frames: Nova Pilbeam (click image to view larger version or refresh thumbnails)...

Image Gallery

Images from the Hitchcock Gallery (click to view larger versions or search for all relevant images)...

See Also...


  • born Nova Margery Pilbeam 15/Nov/1919[6]
  • daughter of Arnold William Pilbeam (b. 1890)[7] and Margery Cecilia Pilbeam (b. 1896) née Stopher[8], who married 19/Jan/1919 at St John the Evangelist, Blackheath, London
  • sister of Anthony Stopher Pilbeam (b. 1924)[9]
  • married 19/Oct/1939 to Frederick Penrose Tennyson[10]
  • married 1950 to radio journalist Alexander H. Whyte[11] in Chelsea
  • mother of Sarah Jane Whyte (b. 1952)[12]
  • died 17/Jul/2015 aged 95

Research Documents

Passenger List (Sep/1934) — Southampton to New York

Passenger List (Oct/1934) — New York to Southampton

Research Notes

  • She was injured on 30/Apr/1938 when the taxi she was about to alight from was hit by another car. According to newspaper reports, she was thrown forward and her head struck the windscreen. The driver of the other car, Ernest Arthur Hardy, was later fined £10 for careless driving. At the time, Pilbeam was living on Coombe Lane, Kingston Hill.[13]
  • According to newspaper reports of her first wedding, Pilbeam set off for her honeymoon in Minehead, Somerset, wearing "a dark navy-blue costume with pill-box hat banded by cerise coloured ribbon [and a] cherry-coloured velvet scarf".[14]
  • Nova Pilbeam was listed as living at 70 Hampstead High Street from 1946-49.
  • Nova M. Tennyson was listed as living at 4 Cheyne Row, Chelsea, London, in 1950/51.
  • Nova Whyte was listed living with daughter Sarah J. Whyte at 15 Grove Terrace, London from 2002 until 2012.


Notes & References

  1. They departed Southampton on 22/Sep/1934 aboard the Aquitania and return back to England in mid-October, arriving back on 19/Oct/1934.
  2. The Observer (03/May/1936) - Nova Pilbeam Grows Up
  3. Before moving to America, Hitchcock had suggested Pilbeam could play opposite Ronald Coleman (as Maxim de Winter). Source: Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light (2003) by Patrick McGilligan, chapter 8.
  4. According to newspaper reports, 19-year-old Anthony was on only his second operational flight when he went missing. He had wanted to become a film director, but turned to acting shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War. See, for example, the Dundee Evening Telegraph (08/Jan/1944).
  5. Newspaper reports stated the house was badly damaged. See, for example, Aberdeen Journal and Gloucester Citizen (both 23/Apr/1941).
  6. Birth registered Q4 1919 Kingston, Kent.
  7. Birth registered in Dover, Kent. Son of chemical draughtsman William A. Pilbeam (b. ~1864) and Lucy M. Pilbeam (b. ~1870) née Arnold. Died 1970 [reg. Q2 1970 Windsor, Berkshire].
  8. Birth registered in Woolwich, London. Daughter of mechanical engineer Arthur James Stopher (b. ~1863) and Cecillia Stopher (b. ~1866). Died 1966 aged 69 [reg. Q4 1966 Windows, Berkshire].
  9. Birth registered Q2 1924 Woolwich, London. Joined the R.A.F., served in 57 Squadron and died 02/Jan/1944 in a plane crash near Berlin. Probate granted 15/Jan/1947 to theatre manager Arthur William Pilbeam with effects worth £120 12s. 6d.
  10. Marriage registered Q4 1939 Westminster. The couple honeymooned in Minehead, Somerset.
  11. Died 1972.
  12. Birth registered Q3 1952 Greenwich.
  13. As reported in the Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette (17/Jun/1938).
  14. Source: Taunton Courier and Western Advertiser (21/Oct/1939)